With a legal, non-motorized crossing of the Lillooet River moving one step closer to reality, the discussion will now turn to exactly what kind of bridge will span the stream between Pemberton and Mount Currie.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) announced last Thursday (Oct. 11) that nearly $370,000 of federal gas tax funding was approved for construction of a bridge across the river, part of the long-awaited Friendship Trail between the village and First Nation community.
The bridge was one of nine projects within the SLRD receiving funding via the Regionally Significant Project Fund, administered by the federal government and Union of B.C. Municipalities, said an SLRD release issued last Thursday (Oct. 11).
“I’m excited,” said SLRD Area C director Susie Gimse on Tuesday (Oct. 15). “We’ve been talking about the Friendship Trail for some time. We definitely need a crossing for people to safely cross the river and this is a good start.”
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy was similarly pleased to deliver the news to council at its Tuesday meeting.
“We’re a lot further along on this project than we were a short time ago,” said Sturdy. “It’s been a longstanding objective of the community.”
The hope is that a new bridge accommodating pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorized uses would solve the problem of illegal crossings over the CN-owned bridge and non-vehicle traffic on Highway 99 between Pemberton and Mount Currie.
The gas tax grant can be used to cover up to half of the cost of the bridge, while Sturdy said Tuesday that the Village of Pemberton has up to $250,000 in development cost charges on hand that could be applied to the project.
Sturdy said that means local authorities are about $100,000 away from being able to construct a suspension bridge over the water. However, a suspension bridge wouldn’t be adequate for horses to cross, so accommodating equestrian interests in the valley is something that will be looked at more in-depth.
Sturdy estimated that it would take an additional $300,000 to $500,000 in order to construct a bridge that would be adequate for horses.
When asked if some of the cost could be recovered by finding a shorter distance to span, Sturdy said there wasn’t much opportunity there.
“There are really only a couple of options, and this one is by far the best,” said Sturdy, noting that the preferred spot is “the Belkin to North Arm channel alignment.”
Sturdy continued: “If you build a bridge that doesn’t take you necessarily where you want to go, you tend not to use it, so it’s balancing off the cost, the practical aspect of it and ultimate use.”
Pemberton Valley Trails Association (PVTA) board member Corinne Orava said the PVTA recently joined the Horse Council of B.C., which could lead to future grant opportunities. Orava asked council what else the local group could do to help cover the cost of a horse-friendly connection.
“We’re looking at all options,” she said.
In response, chief administrative officer Daniel Sailland said the local jurisdictions will hopefully be devising “creative concepts for fundraising” that they hope local groups can get behind.
“We’d likely bring something back to council and invite various stakeholders to give us some comment on how good that approach would be,” said Sailland. “I think you can expect to hear something from the village, with the regional district partnered with that, to try and build some momentum.”
Monies from the Regionally Significant Project Fund are set aside and allocated to regional districts on a per capita basis, meaning the $1.8 million-plus that will be spent on the nine approved projects was available to the SLRD only. Based on the current deadline, the funds must be spent by 2015.